SYDNEY, August 20 (Reuters) – The final of the Women’s World Cup, featuring England and Spain, kicked off on Sunday, signifying the apex of a tournament that has shattered both attendance and television viewership records. This remarkable achievement has ignited hope for a surge in interest and support for women’s soccer.
Australia and New Zealand, the co-hosts of this ninth edition of the illustrious global competition, have spearheaded a historic milestone by bringing the World Cup to the southern hemisphere for the very first time. Notably, this edition has already established new standards for attendance.
While local enthusiasm experienced a downturn following Australia’s exit in the semi-finals, approximately 2 million spectators are estimated to have attended matches across the nine host cities, with the final commencing at 8 p.m. (1000 GMT) on Sunday.
Hours prior to kick-off on Sunday, a multitude of fans had already gathered around Stadium Australia in Sydney, as vibrant groups of drummers and stilt walkers contributed to the festive ambiance.
Both England and Spain find themselves in their maiden Women’s World Cup final, marking a significant moment for each team. Interestingly, England has not clinched a victory in a men’s tournament since 1966.
Michael Khoodriuth, an ardent England supporter, expressed a mix of emotions, stating, “I’m feeling joyful, thrilled, but also quite anxious, as we’ve experienced numerous disappointments over the past five decades.
Australia’s defeat to England in the semi-finals on Wednesday captured the attention of a substantial audience, averaging at 7.13 million viewers across the channels of local broadcaster Seven Network. This impressive viewership figure stands as a new record for research firm OzTAM, which was established in 2001.
Anticipation for Matildas’ matches had reached a fervent pitch months ahead, resulting in sold-out stadiums. Organizers anticipate that the average attendance will surpass 30,000 as all 64 matches conclude.
Comparatively, the previous Women’s World Cup held in France four years ago drew in excess of 1.1 million spectators for 52 matches, culminating in an average crowd size of 21,756.
FUNDING DEFICIT Following a 2-0 loss to Sweden in the third-place playoff on Saturday, Australia’s players will receive $165,000 each in prize money for their participation in this tournament. This amount is over 300 times the A$750 ($480) they earned for reaching the quarter-finals in 2015.
However, at the grassroots level, the sport is in need of increased resources, emphasized Matildas striker Sam Kerr after their loss to England on Wednesday.
“We require investment in our development, we require funding at the grassroots level,” she articulated. “In essence, we require funding across the board.”
The standout World Cup performance of the Matildas has sparked demands for greater backing for women’s soccer in Australia. Despite this success, the sport lags behind more popular football codes like rugby league and Australian rules.
In response, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese pledged A$200 million for women’s sports, prompted by the Matildas’ impressive journey to the semi-finals. This financial support aims to enhance sports facilities for women and girls, with a significant allocation expected for soccer.
Furthermore, the government aims to make women’s sporting events accessible on free-to-air television, addressing concerns that many World Cup matches not involving Australia were restricted behind a paywall.
Both finalists, England and Spain, have grappled with their own unique challenges. In England, where the sport originates, women were prohibited from official facilities until 1970. Interest and funding for women’s soccer have historically lagged behind the men’s team, though this dynamic began to shift after the Lionesses secured the European championship last year.
The Spanish team has encountered internal turmoil, including a locker room dispute with coach Jorge Vilda and the Spanish football federation, resulting in the absence of several key players from the tournament.
($1 = 1.5618 Australian dollars)